Ranger Jéan Taute guides out of Eagles Crag lodge and is a fanatical birder. Rightly so as he has a National Specialist Bird Guide for all of SA and neighbouring countries! He recently wrote this piece on birding at Shamwari Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. All photos were taken by Ranger Jessica Tyrer.
From the open grasslands where LBJ’s lurk to the towering forest trees where a flash of crimson reveals a Knysna Turaco, Shamwari is a true birder’s paradise.
The reserve with its sheer size encompasses such a vast array of different habitats that an abundance of bird species can be found and there is truly something for everyone. A typical day in summer will leave you with no less than a 100 birds recorded due to a boost in bird numbers with the migrants being present.
Within the deep forests; away from all the hustle and bustle of the busy savannas, one is greeted by the sweetest of melodies. Tucked away, deep within the gloomy canopy, a flash of yellow catches one’s’ eye and suddenly two and two gets put together, in front of us sits staring a little miracle, the White-starred Robin. It’s not overly rare, however it can prove quite elusive so finding them on the reserve has been a real bonus for the birders among us.
With only around 200 breeding pairs of Black Storks found within South Africa, we are very fortunate to be seeing these birds on the reserve. Pictured below one can see the glossy sheen to the feathers which is generally an indication of it being in breeding plumage.
At first glance, one might overlook these beautiful birds scurrying away and showing their drab back to everyone. However, spending a little time with them they soon relax and start foraging around in the open. This is the time they really come into their own, displaying the most fascinating bright orange throat to those who are patient enough.
The little gems of our rivers and streams, quite often just a glimpse of colour dashing low across the water reveals their presence. Spending a bit of time to locate them through binoculars leaves one in awe with their striking colours of red and orange, malachite and blue, a true feast to the eye and a hit with everyone.
Another of our kingfishers found on the reserve, it might not be nearly as colourful as the others, but they are true acrobats and masters of the sky, often hovering to catch its prey unlike most other kingfishers which hunt from a perch. They are also tricky subjects to photograph when up in the air, but it provides a unique challenge to anyone brave enough to try.
Strolling across the open grassland there is no bird looking quite as proud and stately as the Secretarybird. With powerful strides and its upright posture, it marches across the plains in search of its next meal. Taking anything from insects and rodents to reptiles including venomous snakes. They overpower their prey with a few well-placed kicks or a pounding stomp, and if manageable will swallow it whole. For South Africans, the Secretarybird also holds great significance as it is found on the coat of arms.
At more than 300 kilometres south of their normal range, finding a White-fronted Bee-eater would certainly prompt one to take a second look, to try and pin the identification on another species altogether. But believe it or not, Shamwari is home to its very own breeding colony of these magical birds, how they got here and more importantly why they decided to stay and breed in the area baffles bird brains from all over. Yet they seem to be loving the reserve and we are enjoying an upward trend in their numbers to the delight of everyone enchanted by the aerial acrobatics they perform.
About Ranger Jéan:
Being from the central interior of the country I find myself five years later a true lover of the birds found in this neck of the woods. After all having Knysna Turacos, Olive Bush-Shrikes and Crowned Eagles around the “office” isn’t something many of us can attest to. And even though the big and hairy animals out there fascinate me, my true passion lies with anything and everything feathered. There’s no greater pleasure for me than guests arriving and telling me they’re keen birders, immediately my mind starts rushing over all the amazing places on the reserve I could potentially take them and the feathered friends I can show them…
So whether you are just a general bird lover that enjoys looking at the more common species, or a serious twitcher trying for the elusive Narina Trogon or African Finfoot, Shamwari is certainly for you.